By Jonathan Sperling
He swindled a centenarian out of house and home. Now he’s facing 15 years in the big house.
Ricardo Bentham, 58, was hit with a slew of charges for allegedly filing a fake deed and stealing a home from his 101-year-old neighbor, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced Thursday.
Bentham, who lives on 118th Avenue in Jamaica, is accused of tricking the victim, Woodrow Washington, into signing a quitclaim deed and transferring ownership of his 143rd Street home for a sale price of $0.
Bentham, who is charged with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of stolen property, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
“This is a particularly troublesome case. The defendant was supposedly assisting his centenarian neighbor collect rent from his tenants, but in actuality the helper is alleged to have duped the old man into signing away his home,” Brown said. “If the charges are proven true, the defendant now faces prison time for his actions.”
The elderly victim did not realize anything was awry until he received a letter from the Department of Finance stating that the deed to his home had been transferred to Bentham, prosecutors say. An inquiry conducted by the New York City Automated Register Information System later revealed that the document on file displayed the signature of Washington along with a notary stamp and signature of a notary.
After authorities questioned the notary, Theodore White, 93, they discovered that the document bearing his signature was missing the notary seal, which he always added to a document, prosecutors say.
Washington noted that Bentham was a friend who had offered to help him collect rent from his tenants. He also stated that he recalled signing documents that the defendant brought to his residence and that some of the forms were blank. He also told authorities that he recalled signing documents that the defendant brought to his residence and that some of the forms were blank.
The case was investigated by Detective Gloria Castelblanco of the New York City Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation under the supervision of Sergeant Teresa Russo and the overall supervision of Sheriff Joseph Fucito.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Burke, of the District Attorney’s Elder Fraud Unit of the Economic Crimes Bureau, is prosecuting the case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Kristen A. Kane, chief of the Elder Fraud Unit, Gregory C. Pavlides, bureau chief, and Christina Hanophy, deputy bureau chief, and the under the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney for Investigations Peter A. Crusco.
The alleged scam is just the latest scheme targeting senior citizens to hit Queens Criminal Court.
Last week, three Maspeth thieves were sentenced to up to ten years in prison for robbing seniors throughout the borough. The trio posed as grandchildren, said they were old neighbors and even recruited children in order to get inside senior citizens’ homes in Jackson Heights, Flushing and Maspeth in the summer of 2016.
“The defendants, in some instances, pretended to be a granddaughter or a former neighbor to gain entry and at times would be accompanied by a pre-teen girl to distract the homeowners and steal their money and valuables,” Brown said. “The sentence imposed by the court today is more than warranted and punishes the defendants for their criminal acts.”
Tony Cristo, 37, and his ex-wife Teresa Howard, 38, both pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary as a hate crime. Cristo’s sister, Rosie Cristo, 34, pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted burglary as a hate crime before Acting Queens Supreme Court Justice Barry S. Kron on July 6.
All of their victims were elderly, including some who were older than 90. Under the provisions of New York State’s Hate Crimes Act of 2000, enhanced charges can be filed when a defendant is alleged to have selected his or her victim because they are 60 or older.
Tony Cristo and Howard were each sentenced to 10 years in prison plus five years post release supervision. Rosie Cristo was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and two and a half years post-release supervision.
In May, a Jamaica investment advisor was indicted for fleecing seniors. State Attorney General Barbara Underwood said Dean Mustaphalli, 48, met his clients while working at a neighborhood bank branch in Jamaica. When he started his own investment firm, he took many of his clients with him.
Mustaphalli defrauded the investors to the tune of $11 million by removing their money from low-risk accounts and sinking it into his own failing hedge fund between June 2014 and March 2017.
“That is where the trouble allegedly began,” Underwood said at a Manhattan news conference reported by the Daily News. “They were nurses, shopkeepers, homemakers, municipal workers. They had asked Mr. Mustaphalli to invest their money on safe, secure investments. They liked Mr. Mustaphalli and they trusted him.”